Tag Archives: public opinion

1968?

As Americans have increasingly taken to the streets, not just to protest George Floyd’s murder, but also to protest overreach by the current, lawless administration, I’ve seen several articles comparing those demonstrations with the civil unrest that characterized the 1960s.

The consensus, I am happy to report, seems to be that we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

The Brookings Institution examined public opinion on race, and concluded–as the title of that report put it–“When it comes to opinions on race, it isn’t 1968 anymore.”

For one thing, there is very little disagreement about public reaction to the horrific video showing Floyd’s murder. According to survey research, only 2% of Americans believe that the use of force against him was justified, and 81% consider it unjustified. Fifty-seven percent believe it reflects a greater willingness on the part of police to use excessive force against Black people.

Furthermore,

76% of Americans now say that discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities in the United States is a “big problem,” including 57% of conservatives, 71% of whites, and 69% of whites without college degrees.  In addition, Americans have turned more pessimistic about progress toward racial equality. In 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, 79% of Americans saw gains in the fight to end racial discrimination, compared to just 56% today.

Attitudes about protests have similarly evolved. Americans overwhelmingly say that peaceful protests are a justifiable response to police misconduct, and they also believe that police have over-reacted and used excessive and unjustifiable force against peaceful protesters. A whopping two-thirds blame “other people”– not the protesters themselves– for the outbreaks of violence, which they do condemn.

The bottom line: it’s not 1968 anymore. A large share of white Americans now endorse views on race relations once confined largely to African Americans. While Americans of all parties and races continue to oppose violent protests, appeals to “law and order” not balanced with the recognition of deep injustice lack the resonance of half a century ago. This helps explain why barely one-third of Americans support President Trump’s handling of race relations—and why 53% of Americans say that relations have gotten worse on his watch.

In June, Todd Gitlin took a slightly different approach in a column for the Washington Post, comparing today’s protests to 1969 rather than 1968. Gitlin acknowledged that “When windows are smashed, shops go up in flames, looters ransack and police open fire, the collective psyche automatically clicks over to 1968 ,” but he went on to argue that the current anger has more in common with the (far more effective) anti-war demonstrations of 1969.

The issue was different from today’s, but the ecumenical spirit, the resolve and the conviction about the need for a new political start were similar. Then as now, the rallies expressed both solidarity and self-interest. In 1969, with the draft in force, many in the Moratorium crowds had a huge personal stake, though many did not. Today, black protesters have the most obvious stakes, but whites in the far-flung crowds, under a broad range of leaders, are also moved selflessly and morally.

I remember the upheaval of the 60s, and I especially remember the attitudes of my own middle-class, White, “proper” cohort–attitudes that were definitely not sympathetic to the “rabble” that was disturbing their complacency. But looking back, it’s hard to deny that both the riots and the anti-war protests changed America.

Historians tell us that the upheaval of the 1960s integrated universities, spurred the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, put black faces on TV shows other than sports, and provided a blueprint that would be followed by women, LGBTQ Americans and other oppressed groups.

America is a much fairer country as a result of that upheaval.

Of course, making additional places at the civic table continues to upset people who experience equality for others as a diminution of their own status. A columnist for CNN repeated a story that continues to be both explanatory and relevant:

As Hodding Carter put it to historian Arthur Schlesinger, when Schlesinger asked why Southern white men hated Bill Clinton so much, “They look back with longing at the good old days — the days when abortion was in the back alley, gays were in the closet, women were in the kitchen, blacks were in the back of the bus, and condoms were under the counter.”

Progress doesn’t come without disruption–and not everyone applauds when it comes.

It’s the Turnout, Stupid!

Do references to “President” Trump make you wonder how we ended up with a Congress and an Administration so wildly at odds with what survey research tells us the majority of Americans want?

This paragraph from a recent Vox article really says it all:

A general poll doesn’t reflect voters very much anymore. A general poll would have had Donald Trump losing substantially and the Democrats winning the House. About 45 percent of people in general polls don’t vote at all. What you saw in the election was that Republican voters came out at a very high rate. They got high turnout from non-minority people from small towns.

There are multiple reasons people fail to vote. There is, of course, deliberate suppression via “Voter ID” laws , restrictions of early voting periods and purposely inconvenient placement of polling places.

Gerrymandering, as I have pointed out numerous times before, is a major disincentive; why go to the polls when the overwhelming  number of contests aren’t really contested?

And of course, there are the holdover mechanisms from days when transportation and communication technologies were very different–state, rather than national control of everything from registration to the hours the polls are open, voting on a Tuesday, when most of us have to work, rather than on a weekend or a day designated as a national holiday, etc.

The Vox paragraph illustrates the repeated and frustrating phenomenon of widespread public antagonism to proposed legislation that nevertheless passes easily, or support for measures that repeatedly fail. If vote totals equaled poll results–that is, if everyone who responded to an opinion survey voted–our political environment would be dramatically different.

Americans being who we are, we are extremely unlikely to require voting, as they do in Australia. (Those who fail to cast a ballot pay a fine.) We can’t even pass measures to make voting easier. I personally favor “vote by mail” systems like the ones in Oregon and Washington State; thay save taxpayer dollars, deter (already minuscule) voter fraud, and increase turnout. They also give voters time to research ballot issues in order to cast informed votes. (Informed votes! What a thought….)

If the millions of Americans who have been energized (okay, enraged) by Trump’s election want to really turn things around, the single most important thing they can do is register people who have not previously voted, and follow up by doing whatever it takes to get them to cast ballots.

Voter ID laws a problem? Be sure everyone you register has ID. Polls and times inconvenient? Help them vote early or drive them to their polling place.

Gerrymandering a disincentive? First make sure that someone is opposing every incumbent, no matter how lopsided the district, and then help people who haven’t previously voted get to the polls. Those gerrymandered district lines are based upon prior turnout statistics; on how people who voted in that district previously cast their ballots. If even half of those who have been non-voters started going to the polls, a lot of so-called “safe” districts wouldn’t be so safe.

Not voting, it turns out, is a vote for the status quo. There are a lot of Americans who are cynical and dissatisfied with the status quo who don’t realize that the plutocrats and autocrats they criticize are enabled by–and counting on– their continued lack of involvement.

If everyone who has found his or her inner activist would pledge to find and register three to five people who haven’t previously voted, and do what it takes to get them to the polls, it would change America.

Only in Indiana

Over at the Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan has posted a memo he somehow obtained from a Republican pollster–the same guy who did polling for George W. Bush.   The advice he gives GOP candidates–based upon his reading of recent poll results–is pretty astonishing; he bluntly warns that continuing its anti-gay positions and rhetoric will “marginalize the party for a generation,” because public opinion about gay equality is shifting so quickly.

According to his data, even a majority of Republicans favor basic civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, and the rate of acceptance is accelerating.

Now, I understand that Republicans in states like New York and Massachussetts are more likely to endorse equal treatment for LBGT folks than Republicans–and Democrats–in considerably less progressive Indiana. But even here, most of my own Republican friends react to anti-gay rhetoric with distaste. A not-inconsiderable number of them favor same-sex marriage. My students–Republican and Democrat alike–are almost unanimous in their support, and bewildered by the opposition.

What was that Dylan song? Something about it not taking a weathervane to see where the wind is blowing?

This change in public opinion is hardly a secret; especially since the President’s “evolution” on the issue, it has pretty much been front-page news. So why on earth would John Gregg reiterate not only his opposition to same-sex marriage, but his support for a constitutional amendment banning it?

The Gregg campaign has made several missteps already. Most of them, however, have involved the sort of in-party squabbling that hobbles a candidate organizationally, but not necessarily publicly. This, however, is one of those “unforced errors” that makes savvy political folks wince.

All John Gregg has to do in order to get progressive voters to support him is to not be Mike Pence. How hard is that?

Wrong side of history, wrong side of morality, wrong side of logic.

Rupert must be so pleased.